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Theology For Life: my degree course

For a lot of years now I have really wanted to take one some kind of formal study in theology, just for personal development reasons rather than any desire to use that training professionally.  For a whole host of reasons it has been difficult to find a course that I considered suitable, I was not keen to go through my own denomination, I feared that avenue would be in conflict with my screaming liberal tendencies and would likely be skewed in a particular direction.

That being said it’s impossible to find any course that’s not skewed in some direction or other and it seems like whichever way you go you’re going to have to take from it what you can.

My nephew Ed now works for the Church In Wales and he has recently been asked to be a facilitator for the ‘Theology For Life‘ course which comes from St Padarn’s Institute, the educational facility of the Church In Wales. When Ed asked me if I was interested I agreed as it was the kick start that I needed to get into study.

Theology For Life is a part time study course designed around small group and individual study. Each year has three terms made up of one module each.  It is a course that you can take as far as you want to, two years will give you a Certificate, a further two years gives you a diploma and if you complete six years in total you will graduate with a BA in Theology and Discipleship from Trinity St David’s University.

I mentioned earlier about courses being slewed and this one is unsurprisingly very Anglican.  The first module is called ‘Exploring Anglican Worship’ and with me never having been an Anglican it’s already a steep learning curve, but it looks interesting.

At this rate I could be a graduate before I’m sixty!

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Responses to the Nashville Statement

In another of my multiple identities I run the website at affirm.org.uk, which is UK network of Baptist Christians working together for LGBT+ inclusion. For a long time I have had a strong Conviction that the church’s traditional position on sexuality is, not to put too fine a point on it, un-Christian and it’s refreshing to see changes happening, albeit slowly.

Below is a reproduced post that I wrote today for the site, regarding the Nashville Statement, a vile piece of garbage that I had the misfortune to read recently.

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This week a group of around 150 Christian leaders published The Nashville Statement, a set of affirmations and denials regarding sexuality and faith and in particular LGBT+ issues. This group, it must be said, represent a particular brand of conservative evangelicalism that this particular writer finds to be unwholesome to say the least.

I won’t post a link to the statement here, you’ll find it easily enough if you really want to read it.

There have been a number of responses to the statement online, many from the church and many from secular writers. I want to highlight two responses here that I found to be particularly helpful in presenting a more loving, inclusive and Christ-like representation of the broad spectrum of humanness .

Firstly the ‘Denver Statement‘ written by Nadia Bolz-Weber, an author of several ground-breaking books and a founding pastor of House For All Sinners And Saints in Denver, Colorado.  Nadia responds brilliantly to each of the articles and adds one of her own at the end.

Secondly from Christians United, a similar statement listing their own set of ten articles written in the same style as pairs of affirmations and denials, This statement has initially been signed by a broad spectrum of international Christian leaders and in this case there is an option for the reader to sign on in agreement to the statement.

Here at Affirm our purpose is to support the LGBT+ community, particularly those within the Baptist denomination, but in a wider sense to all those seeking to be at home in an inclusive, Christ-like church, it makes me sad to read the Nashville Statement, but I am encouraged by the responses and by the realisation that the love of Christ is all-encompassing and slowly, very slowly, his church is coming to realise that.

This post by Andy Long, website manager

Christian Aid Week fundraising

As always I am organising a series of events for Christian Aid week at our local church St Julians Baptist in Newport.  Each year we manage to raise a pretty good sum for the charity and it has long been one of our favourite projects.

This year you can help us out by going to this just giving page and donating to our sponsored walk around Llandegfedd Reservoir.

This year Christian Aid week focuses on the plight of refugees around the world. Please visit the Christian Aid site for some more information

Any gifts given through this Just Giving Page will go direct to Christian Aid, but we will get a running total so we can add that to the amount that we raise by other means.

Give at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Andy-Long11

Thanks

Progressive Christianity Network AGM

This weekend I enjoyed a train trip up to Birmingham to attend the AGM of the Progressive Christianity Network.  It’s the first time I had been to this event and didn’t really know what to expect, apart from previous experiences of other AGMs leaning towards the tedious.

In fact this was a very enjoyable afternoon. 65 people in attendance with a chance to make some new friends over lunch before starting the proceedings.  The business part of the meeting took place first: Election of officers, finances, reports etc. Once that was all out of the way we split into sub groups to discuss a variety of subjects and I found myself in a small group discussing how PCN members can make better use of social media platforms.  As an avid tweeter this was home ground for me, but a couple of our other members were quite new to the whole concept.

The whole group reconvened for a plenary session to discuss issues raised by the various groups and it was a good opportunity to hear from a broad selection of the members.

It was great to meet Adrian Alker at last. I picked up a copy of his book ‘Is A Radical Church Possible‘ and added it to my already too large pile of books to be read.  I’ll get round to it. Adrian also expressed an interest in coming to address our PCN group at Cardiff so we’ll be fixing up a date soon.

I brought home a box of resources for our group. PCN have recently released a set of four leaflets to be given to friends or used in churches.  These are titled ‘An Introduction To The PCN Groups Network’, ‘An Introduction To Our Eight Points’, ‘Helping Churches To Share A Progressive Faith’ and ‘Helping You To Live A Progressive Christian Faith’. These are an excellent little series of leaflets, I’ll be distributing them to our group, if you’d like a set please get in touch and I’l be happy to send them.

I’ve been grateful for the friends at PCN over the last twelve months or so and look forward to future events.  Next major conference is with Robin Meyers in Bristol on May 13th. Details here.

My book list to start off 2017

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I’ve got a bookshelf near my bed and I generally buy more books than I’ve got time to read. At the start of the year I sorted out this pile that led reading, once I’ve finished the three or four that I’m already reading at the same time.

Looking at the titles I guess this is a clear indication of the way my spiritual life has been going for several years now.  My Christian faith has always been important to me, but in recent years has become much more liberal and progressive and I find myself reading authors like those above.

Peter Enns books ‘The Sin Of Certainty’, ‘The Evolution Of Adam’ and ‘The Bible Tells Me So’ have been a welcome refuge for me so I’m looking forward to ‘Inspiration And Incarnation’.

I recently finished ‘Falling Upward’ by Richard Rohr and have just bought ‘The Divine Dance’ an examination of the nature of God from his uniquely mystical stance.

There are a couple of C.S. Lewis books in there which  my nephew bought for me in Hay On Wye. I’ve read much of Lewis’ work before and will enjoy revisiting these.

The books on sexuality and gender are of interest because of the passion that I have to see all people welcomed into the body of Christ. Inclusion and equality are Christlike traits that we need to pursue.  Equal marriage is only one of the issues that the church needs to address in this area, but it’s a big one.

No doubt more titles will be added soon and some of these books will still be on the pile next year, but I’m getting there.

Progressive Christianity Network, Cardiff

pcnA year or so ago I was invited to a small group that meets regularly in Cardiff. The group is part of the Progressive Christianity Network of Britain, a small organisation of people who are seeking an open and contemporary approach to their faith.

The Cardiff group meets twice a month in a church in Pontprennau. There are usually around 8-10 of us at the meeting which is centred around a visiting speaker, video presentation or discussion idea.

It’s been a refreshing and thought provoking time for me at the group. I don’t always agree with the ideas that come out of it, but I think that’s kind of the point, all the members have come to progressive thought via a different path.  In my own church I’m a raging liberal with funny ideas, whilst at PCN I feel more like a conservative trying to hold on to the reins.

At the start off 2017 I will be taking over as the convenor of the group, which sounds very grand, but really just means that I will be facilitating the evenings and booking speakers.

I’ve lined up a few interesting speakers already, here are some of the forthcoming evenings

17th January – Fair Trade In Wales: Aled Pickard and John Mathias

21st February – Some Christians are trans, what does that mean?: Elaine Sommers

21st March – The Dategrove Group: John Henson

Other speakers have yet to confirm topics and I have a few video evenings lined up too.

The group meets at 7:30pm on the first and third Tuesday of each month at Pontprennau Community Church. If you would like to come or want to be added to the mailing list please email me

 

 

Hereford Cathedral, Mappa Mundi and the Chained Library

A few photos from a visit today to Hereford Cathedral. A beautiful cathedral with many stunning stained glass windows. Well worth a visit.

Mappa Mundi is a medieval map of the world drawn on vellum, a very different map to that which we see today. Jerusalem at the centre, Great Britain a very odd shape and represented disproportionately large. The Earth is surrounded by sketches of fascinating mythical beasts.

The chained library is an ancient collection of hand written manuscripts and printed books.  They are chained to their shelves with the original chains, apparently designed to discourage light fingered medieval students.  Reminded me of the library at Hogwarts.

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Thoughts on Abigail Austen’s documentary

This week my wife and I watched Abigail Austen’s Channel 4 documentary ‘My Trans American Road Trip’, an hour-long journey into some disturbing territory.

The primary focus of the documentary was the controversial ‘bathroom bill’ that has been passed into legislation in certain parts of the USA. The law states that transgender people, when out and about in public buildings, are only allowed to use a public toilet for the gender that they were born with. It is a tragic abuse of the human rights of a group of people who have suffered prejudice and harassment from all avenues during their whole of their lives.

The bill has caused huge amounts of controversy across America and has become a key factor in the current electoral atmosphere, with both leading parties having much to say on the subject.

If you don’t already know, Abigail Austen is a transgender journalist, the first British army officer to undergo full gender reassignment. During the show she interviewed many outspoken proponents of the bill, graciously trying to understand their point of view, whilst challenging their preconceptions. She visited churches, businesses and was even interviewed on a radio chat show.

At this stage let me reiterate the fact that I’m a Christian, I’ve been involved with the church for the whole of my life, ‘became’ a Christian (in the sense that many Christians would understand) aged eighteen (1982) and was baptized in 1985. My wife has been a Christian for even longer than me and we wrote this post together.

Unlike much of the Christian church, we passionately believe in the human rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people to equality, inclusion, equal marriage, equal employment and the freedom to live without fear. We also sincerely believe that this is a Christ-like approach; Jesus is all about inclusion, love and compassion.

As such it appalled us to see the hatred and fear that was being expressed during this broadcast by so much of evangelical, conservative, right wing America. Pulpit thumping preachers shouting about the evils of transgender people and exhorting their congregation to punish their children physically if they expressed homosexual tendencies, Christian businessmen pontificating about how ‘God cannot compromise himself’ and using such vague statements to reinforce their standpoint of prejudice. Christian parents feeling the need to ‘guard’ the doors of public lavatories whilst their children are using them, just in case a transgender person tries to use them at the same time with the motive of accessing and sexually abusing the child. Thus assuming that transgender people are sexual predators. Surely if a transgender lady were to use a male toilet they would be in serious danger of being sexually abused themselves.

All of this behaviour is extremely frustrating to us. We are part of a group that is campaigning for equal marriage in churches in the UK, and there is still much opposition to that move.

We grew up in the Baptist tradition, which encourages its members to study the scriptures personally and prayerfully in context, where disagreement takes place we should seek to respect the others point of view, however the extremist point of view expressed by these supposedly Christian people is well beyond the pale.

It is exactly for reasons like this that I cannot apply the label ‘evangelical’ or ‘conservative’ to my Christianity. These words carry so much negative baggage with them. This is not true Christianity; the hand of Jesus reaches out and offers unconditional love. A fundamentalist approach is dangerous; it breeds contempt, segregation and a superiority complex. It lacks love, peace and understanding and in no way reflects the real ethos of Jesus.

Thank God for the progressive Christian movement, with all its flaws, uncertainties, doubts and scrabbling for direction, we are at least seeking positive ways forward based on a more inclusive understanding of the world.

If you want to watch Abigail’s documentary it’s at

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/my-trans-american-road-trip

Be warned you may find the ideals and attitudes of the church leaders represented upsetting. We do not want you, or anyone to believe these people represent the real Jesus or us as Christians. They claim that LGBT people will be judged and condemned, we truly believe anyone who preaches this prejudice and poison is not representative of the Bible or Jesus.

Your comments welcome below, I welcome all input, but please don’t tell me I’m going to Hell, because I’m getting sick of being told that all the time!

 

Christian Aid Week 2016

Once again this year our home church, St Julians Baptist in Newport, took part in Christian Aid week. I’ve been the Christian Aid Rep for quite a few years now and every year we run a series of events for people in the church and in the local community.

This year we ran some old favourites and tried a couple of new things too. As always we had a team quiz, accompanied by tea and cake (pretty much everything is accompanied by tea and cake). Other events included a plant sale, a sponsored walk across the old Severn Bridge and a Handbell recital at a local garden centre.

My favourite event this year was the Scalextric Rally, four fantastic practice circuits and a digital timed track with prizes for the best times.

Christian Aid Week actually lasts about six weeks for us usually by the time we get all our events in and this year we raised over £1200.

I’ve included a few action shots from the Scalextric. Looking forward to next year

IMG_0985 scalextric - 1 (2) scalextric - 1 scalextric - 1 (1)

 

 

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